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The 2018 Pennsylvania bear harvest was the lowest in 11 years.

Pennsylvania Game Commission officials were hoping that the 2018 harvest was going to break the 4,000-bear barrier for a third time in state history.

With a bear population estimated at 20,000 and a solid start to the November firearms season, the conditions looked promising. However, Game Commission officials said unfavorable weather conditions dashed the hopes of a 4,000-plus-bear harvest.

The 2018 bear harvest came in at 3,153 bears, 11th-best all-time, but also the lowest bear harvest in the past 11 years.

“I thought Pennsylvania was capable of producing a 4,000-bear harvest the past two years,” said Mark Ternent, Game Commission bear biologist, in a news release. “But we’ve had some bad breaks with weather events during our bear seasons the past two years.

“With better hunting conditions, I do believe hunters would have taken another 1,000 bears in each of the past two seasons,” he said.

Four bears harvested in York County: There were four bears harvested in York County in 2018, compared to none in 2017. Adams County had seven bears harvested in 2018, compared to six in 2017.

A season-by-season breakdown shows hunters took 2,017 bears (1,862 in 2017) in the general firearms season, 699 (1,083) in the extended season, 424 (493) in the archery season, and 12 in the early season.

A rainy bear firearms opener hamstrung the 2017 harvest by hundreds of bears. The same thing happened during the 2018 extended bear season opener, which also is the opening day of firearms deer season.

Opening-day harvests are typically responsible for 50 to 60 percent of the bear harvest. When weather interferes, the season’s take suffers.

Seventy bears weighing 500 pounds or more, including 20 weighing 600 pounds or more, were part of the 2018 harvest.

Bears were taken in 60 counties and 22 of Pennsylvania’s 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs).

Even with new bear-hunting opportunities — including an earlier bear archery season that overlapped with a week of the archery deer season and expanded extended bear seasons — the bear harvest failed to reach management objectives.

Changes may be coming: That unfulfilled harvest potential has generated interest in further increasing bear-hunting opportunities. Proposals to expand the mid-October muzzleloader and special firearms deer seasons to include bears statewide; increase to two weeks the length of the statewide archery bear season and shifting it to the two weeks following the muzzleloader and special firearms bear seasons; and expanding four-day extended bear seasons to six days in most WMUs in the 2019-20 bears seasons could be adopted at the April Game Commission meeting.

Pennsylvania’s all-time bear harvest high was recorded in 2011, when 4,350 bears were harvested. Hunters harvested 4,164 in 2005. All other bear harvests have been under 4,000.

While the 2018 harvest was down compared to 2017’s harvest of 3,438, harvest totals increased within the Game Commission’s Northcentral and Northeast regions.

Some big bears taken: The largest bear harvested in 2018 weighed an estimated 780 pounds. It was taken with a rifle in Howe Township, Forest County, on the second day of the general bear season by Michael J. Rubeo, of Mercer.

A day later, a 708-pound male was taken by Timothy J. Weaver, of Dallas, Pa., with a rifle in Harvey’s Lake Borough, Luzerne County.

Tioga County finished with 166 bears to take the top county bear harvest. It was followed by Lycoming County with 159. Other top counties for bear harvests in 2018 were: Clinton, 158; Huntingdon, 142; Potter, 109; Luzerne, 105; Pike, 104; and Monroe, 103.

Final county harvests by region (with 2017 figures in parentheses) are:

Northwest – 517 (388): Venango, 96 (61); Crawford, 79 (40); Jefferson, 79 (55); Warren, 72 (109); Forest, 70 (35); Clarion, 52 (51); Erie, 29 (13); Butler, 26 (18); Mercer, 13 (6); and Lawrence, 1 (0).

Southwest – 261 (237): Somerset, 85 (75); Fayette, 58 (66); Indiana, 34 (11); Armstrong, 33 (36); Westmoreland, 26 (26); Cambria, 21 (21); Allegheny, 2 (1); Beaver, 1 (0); and Greene, 1 (1).

Northcentral – 989 (1,187): Tioga, 166 (214); Lycoming, 159 (252); Clinton, 158 (153); Potter 109 (161); Centre, 87 (93); Clearfield, 87 (66); Cameron, 67 (52); McKean, 67 (86); Elk, 54 (72); and Union, 35 (38).

Southcentral – 474 (383): Huntingdon, 142 (91); Bedford, 80 (57); Fulton, 58 (29); Blair, 44 (27); Juniata, 34 (41); Perry, 31 (44); Mifflin, 29 (43); Franklin, 26 (24); Cumberland, 12 (8); Adams, 7 (6); Snyder, 7 (13); and York, 4 (0).

Northeast – 775 (1,112): Pike, 104 (193); Luzerne, 105 (108); Monroe, 103 (82); Bradford, 96 (112); Wayne, 70 (156); Carbon, 60 (57); Sullivan, 53 (156);  Susquehanna, 46 (66); Wyoming, 40 (70); Lackawanna, 34 (65); Columbia, 38 (29); Northumberland, 24 (16); and Montour, 2 (2).

Southeast – 137 (131): Schuylkill, 50 (47); Dauphin, 48 (49); Northampton, 17 (19); Lebanon, 10 (8); Berks, 8 (7); and Lehigh, 4 (1).

Strong season possible next fall: While the overall harvest was down in 2017 and 2018, those light harvests could lead to excellent bear hunting this fall, Ternent said. Before the start of the 2017 and 2018 hunting seasons, the statewide bear population was estimated at 20,000. It’s still appears to be holding strong.

Just 40 years ago, the agency had closed bear season to protect the resource.

“Just 40 years removed from a time when the Game Commission was closing bear season to safeguard the resource, Pennsylvania has become one of North America’s premier black-bear destinations,” Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said in a news release. “You probably would have to go back in time more than 100 years to find bear hunting comparable to what Penn’s Woods offers today.”

Information for this story was provided by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

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